INTERNATIONAL: U.N. Death Penalty Resolution Backed by Record Number of Countries

On November 19, 110 countries voted for a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions as a step towards the abolition of the death penalty. The vote marked record support for the resolution compared to previous years. Among the countries supporting the resolution were the European Union nations, Australia, Brazil, South Africa and Israel. The United States, Japan, China, Iran, India, North Korea, Syria and Zimbabwe were among 39 countries opposing the non-binding resolution in the Assembly's Third Committee, which addresses human rights issues. Thirty-six countries abstained. Recently, France launched a campaign with other abolitionist states to get the full General Assembly to pass a resolution calling for a death penalty moratorium. Though such a resolution would also be non-binding, diplomats say it would increase moral pressure. Around the world, about 141 are abolitionist in law or in practice, while 57 countries retain the death penalty.

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INTERNATIONAL: UN Investigator Claims Executions are Increasingly Viewed as Torture Around the World

On October 23, the United Nations' special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, told a UN General Assembly human rights committee that countries around the world are increasingly viewing capital punishment as a form of torture because of the severe mental and physical pain it inflicts on those sentenced to death. Mendez told the committee, “States need to re-examine their procedures under international law because the ability of states to impose and carry out the death penalty is diminishing as these practices are increasingly viewed to constitute torture.” Mendez urged all countries to consider repealing capital punishment because it is “cumbersome and expensive and you’re never sure you’re doing it in the right way.” Mendez also spoke about the “death row phenomenon," that is, conditions on death row that cause severe mental anguish and physical suffering. He said such deprivations include anxiety due to the threat of imminent execution, extended solitary confinement, and poor prison conditions.

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NEW VOICES: Kentucky Human Rights Commission Recommends Death Penalty Abolition

On October 17, the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, a state agency that enforces civil rights, unanimously passed a resolution in favor of ending the death penalty. The Commission urged the Kentucky General Assembly to repeal the death penalty and Governor Steven Beshear to sign any such legislation that is brought before him. The resolution underscored the unfairness of capital punishment: “[S]tatistics confirm that the imposition of the death penalty is disproportionately imposed on minorities and the poor." Moreover, the resolution pointed to the high error rate in Kentucky capital cases: "Since 1976, when Kentucky reinstated the death penalty, 50 of the 78 people sentenced to death have had their death sentence or conviction overturned, due to misconduct or serious errors that occurred during their trial. This represents an unacceptable error rate of more than 60 percent.” The resolution will be given to each legislator and to the governor.

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LETHAL INJECTION: Manufacturer of Proposed Execution Drug Blocks Its Use

The main supplier to the U.S. of a drug proposed for lethal injections has announced it will not allow the drug to be sold for executions. Fresenius Kabi USA, a German-based company with offices in Illinois, issued a statement forbidding the sale of propofol to correctional institutions for death penalty use. Earlier in 2012, Missouri announced it intended to switch to propofol as the sole drug in its lethal injection protocol, becoming the first state to do so. Fresenius Kabi officials reacted with a statement: “Fresenius Kabi objects to the use of its products in any manner that is not in full accordance with the medical indications for which they have been approved by health authorities. Consequently, the company does not accept orders for propofol from any departments of correction in the United States. Nor will it do so." Missouri, like most states with the death penalty, had been using sodium thiopental as the first drug in a three-drug protocol. Supplies of the drug expired or ran out, forcing states to seek alternatives. Some states replaced sodium thiopental with pentobarbital, but supplies of that drug have also dwindled after its manufacturer announced it will restrict the drug's sale for similar reasons. Read full statement from Fresenius Kabi.

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DEATH ROW: Former Texas Death Row Inmate Testifies at Congressional Hearings on Solitary Confinement

On June 19, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held hearings on solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, including the conditions of many state death rows.  The hearings marked the first time lawmakers on Capitol Hill have considered this issue.  Anthony Graves (pictured r., along with Sen. Richard Durbin), a former Texas death row inmate, described the conditions of his incarceration in a 8 by 12 foot cage with no physical human contact for years.  Meals were passed through a slot, as if feeding an animal.  Graves equated his time on Texas’s death row with solitary confinement and described it as “physical, emotional, and psychological torture.”  He added, “I saw guys who dropped their appeals because of the intolerable conditions. Before his execution, one inmate told me he would rather die than continue existing under these inhumane conditions. I saw guys come to prison sane, and leave this world insane, talking nonsense on the execution gurney. One guy suffered some of his last days smearing feces, lying naked in the recreation yard, and urinating on himself.”  In 2010, Graves was completely exonerated and released from death row because of new evidence of his innocence.  Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said, “We can have a just society, and we can be humane in the process. We can punish wrongdoers, and they should be punished under our system of justice, but we don’t have to cross that line.”

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